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This Japanese Mindset Could Help You Deal With 2020

Beth Kempton, author of ‘Wabi Sabi,’ shares how this Japanese worldview can help us manage any obstacle life has to throw at us.
by Beth Kempton | Oct 16 2020

And the day came when the world slowed and started to remember the good things, like how much we need and care for each other, how the simple things matter most, how we need less stuff than we think, and how a book and a brew can see us through.

I wrote these words back in March, just as we were being plunged into national lockdowns all over the world. In the months that followed, many people found themselves appreciating the slower pace of things and celebrating the kindness of others. As we were physically kept apart, technology kept us together, and for a while there was even a sense of camaraderie.

But then it slowly dawned that the pandemic would not be over in a few weeks, or even a few months. Financial support from governments came to an end, businesses closed, people were made redundant, and still we could not gather in large groups, or hug, or walk our five-year-olds beyond the school gates and into their classrooms, or listen to live music, or go to a football stadium or do so many of the things that we knew to be ‘normal’ and comforting, and part of the fabric of our everyday lives.

It’s no surprise then that many people have spoken and posted about ‘these uncertain times’. But let’s remember that times are always uncertain. Us twenty-first century humans tend to construct our lives to give a sense of permanence, forgetting how fragile everything really is. Surely it would be a whole lot better for our collective mental health if we took a moment to remember that everything is changing all the time. The impermanence of things is a fundamental law of nature. Things come and they go. Whatever things are like at the moment, they won’t always be like that. They won’t ‘always’ be like anything. There is ebb and flow in the river of life.

If you are finding yourself at sea after all that 2020 has thrown at you, and with the ongoing not-knowing, this is for you.

Acceptance is alignment with the truth of the present moment. In this present moment, what is true about your life? You are holding your phone in your hands scrolling social media. Perhaps you are drinking a cup of your favorite tea, or you keep getting distracted by a fly buzzing around the room.

Maybe your window is open and you can hear cars going past. Or the sun is casting shadows across your desk as you try to get used to working from home. Or you are washing your hands for the twentieth time today.

Perhaps you are at the hairdresser’s, getting ready for a special night out, or perhaps you just phoned to cancel your appointment because the night out isn’t happening now.

Perhaps you have stumbled upon this post just after an inspiring conversation, or a big argument, or some surprising news. Maybe you are reading this on the bus, hidden behind your face mask, with half an eye on someone coughing a couple of feet away.

Or maybe you are in your kitchen with a sudden urge to nourish your family with organic food, watching the oven to see if your homemade pie is cooked.

I wonder if you are hot, or cold or just right? If you can smell cooking, or the garden or the impending rain. Do you have music playing? Is the clock ticking? Are you soaking in the bath listening to the sound of your own breathing?

Take a moment to think about the facts of your life in this exact moment. This moment is the one you are living right now. You cannot extend it forever. At some point the pie will be done, the bathwater will go cold, the night will close in.

Accepting that we cannot hold on to or control the status quo is a powerful teaching from wabi sabi—a complex and beautiful concept from Japanese culture, which reminds us to treasure the good we have right now, and know that the bad will pass.

Any time you feel stressed or worried, upset, lost or lonely, anchor yourself in the facts of now. Notice what’s going on in your body and what’s going on around you. Feel what you are feeling. Know that this is just a moment and soon it will give way to another.

Any time you are feeling overwhelmed, try to accept that what is possible in the present is limited. You can only do what you can do. This is not a shutting off of possibilities, but rather a recognition of your own capacity, so you can stop expecting impossible things of yourself and give yourself a break.

Any time you recognize a moment of true joy, soak it all up. Anchor yourself to the sights, sounds and smells of right there and then, so they can transform into a precious memory when the moment has passed, which it will.

This concept of wabi sabi offers potent wisdom to help us deal with a rollercoaster year like 2020. It is an acceptance and appreciation of the impermanent, imperfect and incomplete nature of everything, including ourselves. And when you really think about that, it’s relief. We are not supposed to be perfect. We are all works-in-progress, as are our careers, and relationships, and lives. When things don’t work out, we can pause, reflect and grieve, then shapeshift, innovate, transform or evolve, or simply choose to try again.

The principles that underlie wabi sabi can teach us life lessons about letting go of perfection and accepting ourselves just as we are. They give us tools for escaping the chaos and material pressures of modern life, so we can be content with less. And they remind us to look for beauty in the everyday, allowing ourselves to be moved by it and, in doing so, feeling gratitude for life itself.

The secret of wabi sabi lies in seeing the world not with the logical mind but through the feeling heart. Perhaps that is the way to navigate this pandemic and come out the other side with a sense of hope.

Take good care. It’s going to be OK.

Find out more in Wabi Sabi: Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life by Beth Kempton. You can read or listen to the key insights on Blinkist.

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